A low-energy buddy laffer with zero chemistry between its pair of unlikeable, lackadaisical leads, "New York City Serenade" is a series of sour notes. Third helming effort from fine thesp Frank Whaley sings a sad tune only cablers will hear.

A low-energy buddy laffer with zero chemistry between its pair of unlikeable, lackadaisical leads, “New York City Serenade” is a series of sour notes. Third helming effort from fine thesp Frank Whaley sings a sad tune only cablers will hear.

Aspiring filmmaker Owen (Freddie Prinze Jr.) works in a photo-developing shop, and is engaged to faithful g.f. Lynn (Jamie-Lynn Sigler). His lifelong bud Ray (Chris Klein) drums in a local band, works in a call center, has a contentious relationship with ex Mary (Heather Bucha) and swills vodka like there’s no tomorrow.

When his short film is accepted to a regional American festival in a deal that comes with two first-class plane tickets, Owen plans to take Lynn until she learns of his one-night stand. So Ray fills in and manages to scam the fest out of a luxury hotel room until the ruse is discovered. Angrily denouncing his friend’s bad habits, Owen awakens to find him gone, and decides on the spur of the moment to pursue a flimsy festival contact to Los Angeles.

Whaley’s clearly after a Woody Allen-type grand statement on the durability of male ties and the camaraderie of New Yorkers. Odd, then, that Owen and Ray seem to take little or no pleasure from each other’s company, and that the bulk of the film takes place outside the city.

Pic in fact combines the shallowness of character development evident in Whaley’s 1999 helming debut, “Joe the King,” with the interest in the little guy displayed in his second outing, 2001’s “The Jimmy Show.” Unfortunately, the proper balance of three-dimensional protags in a compelling narrative continues to elude him.

Prinze Jr. still lacks the charisma to carry even a modest film such as this, while Klein’s comedic shtick is long past its expiration date. Whaley cameos as a flustered hospitality rep in a section that features too many feeble jokes about film festivals, not enough of them involving thesp Wallace Shawn as himself: “Short men can do things tall men can’t do,” he tells a pretty autograph seeker, almost in passing, and that’s about as funny as things get.

Tech package is tidy.

New York City Serenade

Production

An Archer Entertainment production. (International sales: the Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Rachel Peters. Executive producer, Rick Whealen. Directed, written by Frank Whaley.

Crew

Camera (color), Ryan Samul; editor, Miran Miosic; music, Ed Harcourt; production designer, Dara Wishingrad; costume designer, Virginia Cook; sound (Dolby), Stuart Deutsch. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 12, 2007. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Freddie Prinze Jr., Chris Klein, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Sebastian Roche, Heather Bucha, Wallace Shawn.
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